The second stab at stimulus funding was successful, big time, for Salt Lake City's streetcar desires.
Mayor Ralph Becker announced Wednesday that the federal government has awarded Utah's capital $26 million for the Sugar House streetcar, fast-tracking the long-planned project toward completion around Christmas 2012 or early 2013.
The U.S. Transportation Department funding will pay the bulk of the $46 million streetcar line, which will span two miles from the Central Pointe TRAX station (near 2100 South and 220 West) east to McClelland Street (1045 East) in the Sugar House business district.
"We are all enormously appreciative of the Obama administration," said Becker, who lobbied unsuccessfully for an initial round of stimulus before getting good news on round two late Tuesday. The money marks "a return of streetcars to Salt Lake."
Five stops are planned along the slow-rolling line cars will travel roughly 25 mph at State Street, 300 East, 500 East, 700 East and 900 East. Utah Transit Authority officials say a construction bid will go out immediately. Work is expected to begin in the spring.
Once the line opens, east-siders can enjoy a car-free commute. Food lovers can grab burnt ends at Pat's Barbecue, ribs at Sugar House Barbeque and sushi rolls at Tsunami without having to park. And people from across the Wasatch Front can access one of Utah's oldest and most eclectic neighborhoods exclusively by rails.
"Anytime you can get more traffic this direction and take out people using their cars is great," said Alicia Sawyer, manager of Tsunami, which sits less than two blocks from the streetcar terminus on the corner of McClelland (1045 East) and Sugarmont (2225 South).
"This entire corridor is going to be quite transformative," City Councilman Soren Simonsen said standing near the remnants of Sugar House's old train tracks. "We're kind of going back to the future."
Simonsen and Becker stood at the same spot three years ago, when the first-term mayor pledged to fast-track the streetcar from 25 years to the early years of his administration. Becker has had multiple visits with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and other Obama officials about the project. On Wednesday, he and Simonsen lauded Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, and Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, for their influence in securing the money.
"It's a feeder system now that will connect this whole area," said Ralph Jackson, UTA's acting chief capital development officer. He notes an environmental study already has been submitted to and reviewed by federal officials. And since UTA workers soon will be finished with the West Valley and Mid-Jordan TRAX lines, Jackson said, the equipment will be available to launch Sugar House "fairly quickly."
"It's just a case of moving it and using it all here," he said. "It's not like starting from scratch."
Plans to resurrect a streetcar in Sugar House have been under way for a decade. The collaboration was made simpler after UTA acquired the right of way for the corridor, which follows half-century-old tracks. Crossing busy streets such as State and 700 East may be done with traffic lights or crossing arms, officials say, while less-busy intersections may become four-way stops.
Becker stressed streetcars have become a boon for business and property values nationwide a sentiment reiterated by Council Chairman J.T. Martin.
"You're going to see Sugar House come back," Martin said, "like it was in its glory days."
Scoring the federal dollars for Sugar House "couldn't hurt" the city's chances to get more grant funding for downtown streetcars, according to David Everitt, Becker's chief of staff. And, when business owners and the development community see the boost in consumer traffic and property values, "that will accelerate interest in doing it downtown."
Federal cash to get streetcar rolling
More than half the Sugar House streetcar's $46 million price tag was erased Wednesday with the announcement that Salt Lake City snagged $26 million in federal stimulus. Salt Lake City and South Salt Lake each have pledged $2.5 million toward the project, further reducing the cost. Salt Lake City officials, whose initial $35 million stimulus request was denied in February, had hoped for $31 million under round two of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER II grant. The balance for the new streetcar, projected for a possible December 2012 completion, is about $15 million. Officials are optimistic about raising the rest of the funding.